Years ago I leased office space in a charming old historical building in our city. It was a three story affair with nooks and crannies everywhere, including a basement and, beneath the basement, a crawlspace for storage. Several different pastors, counselors and attorneys worked out of this building, all of us proud of its rustic charm.
Until the day we walked in and got a whiff of something indescribably nauseating. We couldn’t tell where it was coming from, but it permeated the place. We opened all the windows the air the rooms out, then searched every bathroom and trashcan in the place to find whatever it was that was causing such a stink.
No luck. So we sprinkled scented dust on the carpets to mask the doros, which were getting stronger as the day progressed. By the next morning, all our efforts to cover up the odor had fallen short, and we seriously feared that we’d have to close shop until the problem was solved.
Then it became apparent that whatever the problem was, it was coming from the basement. Specifically, and worse yet, it came from the crawl space under the basement, a tiny area that was dark and just a bit scary. None of us wanted to crawl in there to see what the trouble was, so we instead endured another two days of the smell, hoping against hope it would magically vanish. (Yes, this was a bunch of professionals!)
Finally we hired a handyman to solve the mystery. A stray cat had found its way under the house and, for whatever reason, had died there in the crawlspace. The carcass was the problem which, when removed, cured the odor problem.
A man’s heart can be a dark, scary place. Jeremiah described it well:
The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
Deep resentments, old wounds and unspoken fears can lodge deep in there, hiding and festering. They, too, can give off an odor through the man’s behavior and attitude.
The behavior may really stink, causing people to notice and demand he do something about it. And he may, by stopping the behavior without addressing the problem of the heart that led to it. But that’s what we did when we sprinkled the scented powder on the carpet, only to find it could mask but not eliminate the odor.
So by all means stop the behavior, whatever it may be. It reeks; it ruins. But it may also be the symptom of a largely, deeply hidden problem as well. If so, you’ll never solve it without taking the time to dive into that uninviting crawlspace and deal with the carcass that’s stuck inside.